Known more for genres like cueca and tonada, Chile isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when we think of reggaeton or its subgenres. But that hasn’t stopped this remote country from quietly becoming a hotbed of talent, with local artists taking the established reggaeton formula and molding it to suit their own sounds. And with his brand of up-tempo, melodic crooning, Polimá Westcoast is set to take his sound from the streets of Santiago to the world.
“[I’m performing in] places that I never imagined [my music would be sounding off],” the artist tells Remezcla in Spanish. Polimá is referencing the six-month tour he recently concluded. The tour saw him performing for audiences in Mexico and Spain, but also in non-Spanish-speaking countries like Canada and Italy. And for a kid who grew up closer to Antarctica than Europe, having crowds of people in places like Milan is a dream come true.
Born Polimá Ngangu Orellana in Chile’s capital city of Santiago to a Chilean mother and Angolan father, the artist moved around a lot as a kid. But music was one of the constants in his life. Crediting his time spent in church for his introduction to music, by the time Polimá was 14, he knew that there was only one path his life would be taking going forward: making music professionally. Pooling together money from his mother, grandmother, and other family members, he bought his first microphone and the equipment he would need to start making music. Then, he threw himself into Chile’s underground scene.
“In the beginning, I had to find my voice. It took a lot of years to arrive at a solid sound that people could listen to with their eyes closed and know it was me. It was something I had to work on daily. But I never get tired of experimenting. I’ve always been a person who experiments a lot,” Polimá shares.
This penchant for experimentation is evident in the music he has released so far. Preferring to keep his vocals light and in the higher register, Polimá’s songs tend to be on the faster sound of reggaeton, utilizing a juiced up, snappier dembow or tumpa tumpa riddim that evokes flashes of the Angolan genre of Kuduro. And that’s no coincidence. Along with being a rapper, Polimá also produces many of the beats he rhymes over and draws inspiration from his diverse upbringing.
“I am a combination of many things…my father is from Angola, and I have my roots and [the roots] of the percussion there. But on the other hand, my mother is Chilean, so my head is always filled with music,” he says.
Along with his mixed cultural roots, Polimá gives credit to North American rappers and reggaeton legends such as Arcángel for inspiring his sound. He even cites Arcángel’s 2008 album El Fenómeno as a major influence in helping him develop his uptempo style. But while he hopes to work with “La Maravilla” in the future, the Afro-Chileno recently caught the eye of another legend.
His latest single, “Ganas,” sees the young emcee collaborating with Puerto Rican pioneer Nicky Jam on a slick, up-tempo reggaeton track. Speaking about the team-up, Polimá says it was an experience he won’t soon forget.
“To spend an entire day with him and share in his experience and his wisdom, I’m happy that [we got to do that], and I hope to get to know more artists like him and just share experiences with good people. That’s really important,” the young reggaetonero says.
“To spend an entire day with [Nicky Jam] and share in his experience and his wisdom, I’m happy that [we got to do that], and I hope to get to know more artists like him and just share experiences with good people. That’s really important,”
And in a business as fast-paced as music and a genre as competitive as reggaeton, the guidance and exposure offered by well-established artists can play a pivotal role in offsetting some of the challenges younger artists face, especially Afro Latino artists, who oftentimes don’t get the same kind of exposure as their lighter-skinned counterparts. The artist does his part to even the playing field, employing Afro-descendientes from places like Nigeria, Haiti, and Colombia for his live performances and participating within his community to help African immigrants find work and obtain documentation. Yet, he isn’t immune to hardship himself.
Even though its underground scene has produced hitmakers like Juliano Sosa and Cris MJ, Chile is far from the epicenter of the genre. As such, for a young artist like Polimá, it can be expensive to get himself where he needs to be — in front of the people who need to see him. Nonetheless, his attitude about the future remains bright and his work ethic undiminished as he preps more hits for his fans, who the artist says drive him with their continued daily support. “For my fans, I’ve got a new album called Hermes coming soon,” he shares. “And for those who don’t know me yet, they’re going to see that this is good music for everyone to enjoy.”